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South Carolina Drug Threat Assessment
December 2001


Although not yet a significant statewide threat, methamphetamine production and abuse constitute the fastest-growing drug threat in western South Carolina. Methamphetamine is growing in popularity because it has a lower cost and longer-lasting euphoric effect than crack cocaine.



Methamphetamine abuse in South Carolina is currently well below the national average. The DAODAS indicates the number of publicly funded treatment center admissions for methamphetamine abuse has remained relatively stable between FY1999 (44) and FY2000 (47) after a decrease from FY1998 (85). TEDS admission statistics for 1998, based on primary drug of abuse, indicate that there were 3 admissions per 100,000 for methamphetamine abuse to publicly funded treatment in South Carolina compared with 29 admissions per 100,000 nationally. While overall abuse appears low, juvenile abuse rates are near national averages. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance 1999 survey indicates that in South Carolina, 8.0 percent of high school students reported lifetime methamphetamine abuse, a number near to the national average of 9.1 percent. Law enforcement reports that methamphetamine abuse is increasing, particularly in Greenville County and other parts of the Upstate.

The primary users of methamphetamine in South Carolina are Caucasian. Commercial truck drivers use the drug to increase alertness, crack abusers switch to methamphetamine for its longer-lasting euphoric effects and lower cost, and young people use the drug at rave parties. Among high school students in South Carolina, females (7.2%) were nearly as likely as males (8.8%) to report lifetime methamphetamine use, similar to national averages of 8.4 percent for females and 9.9 percent for males.

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Methamphetamine is available in gram, ounce, pound, and kilogram quantities. Kilogram quantities of methamphetamine are supplied by Mexican criminal groups and vary in price--between $17,000 and $28,000 per kilogram. In the state, the price of an ounce averages $1,400 and a gram $100.

Table 5. Methamphetamine Prices in South Carolina Cities, 2000

Location Kilogram Pound Ounce Gram
Charleston $17,000-$19,000 $15,000 $900-$1,500 $85
Greenville $28,000 NA $1,200 NA
Florence NA NA $1,300-$1,400 $100

Source: DEA Columbia Resident Office.
Note: Prices are not available for Columbia.

The purity of methamphetamine in South Carolina is relatively low; samples seized in the state and tested by DEA did not exceed 30 percent between 1998 and 2000. Nationwide, the average purity of methamphetamine samples tested by the DEA laboratory was 35.3 percent in 2000, a slight increase from 30.7 percent in 1999. Local producers contribute to the availability of methamphetamine by processing small quantities of high-purity methamphetamine that they dilute with cutting agents, increasing the quantity available for sale while decreasing the purity.

Table 6. Methamphetamine Seizures, 1997-1999

Within South Carolina 1997 1998 1999
Pipeline 0.00 0.00 0.00
Jetway 0.00 0.00 5.00
FDSS 0.00 0.00 6,500.00
SLED Seizures 0.00 797.27 173.50
SLED Buys 71.72 237.50 191.40
Total 71.72 1,034.77 6,869.90
Outside, but destined for, South Carolina  
Pipeline 1,149.00 908.00 1,814.00
Jetway 162.00 0.00 6,276.00
Total 1,311.00 908.00 8,090.00

Sources: EPIC Pipeline Convoy and Jetway databases; Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS); South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
Note: 1999 Pipeline and Jetway data include only the first three quarters. FDSS and SLED data are based on fiscal year. An increase in seizures does not necessarily indicate an increase in availability.

Methamphetamine availability is increasing in South Carolina. Mexican-produced methamphetamine is increasingly being transported into the state; many of the seizures are of Mexican-produced methamphetamine transported to South Carolina from the Southwest Border. SLED seizures and purchases from FY1997 to FY1999 were 72 grams, 1,035 grams, and 365 grams, respectively. Seizures of methamphetamine were reported to the EPIC Jetway and FDSS databases in 1999 for the first time in 3 years. Methamphetamine seized in other states but intended for South Carolina increased from 1.3 kilograms in FY1997 to 8 kilograms in the first 3 quarters of FY1999.

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The potential for violence associated with methamphetamine is significant. Methamphetamine producers often booby-trap laboratories, resulting in increased danger to unsuspecting civilians and law enforcement personnel. Methamphetamine abusers are often unpredictable and will go to great lengths to obtain the drug. Methamphetamine users experience feelings of paranoia, fright, and confusion and often become violent; they frequently arm themselves against perceived threats and may become violent without provocation.

Local independent dealers, OMGs, and street gangs that transport methamphetamine throughout the state commit a number of violent crimes, according to state and local law enforcement sources. One local independent group is alleged to have killed two informants. In Charleston, the Hells Angels is involved in weapons distribution and in assaults on law enforcement officers. Members of the Mafia Gangster Disciples are methamphetamine and weapons distributors, and are involved in assaults, carjackings, drive-by shootings, home invasions, and homicides.



Methamphetamine production in South Carolina is an emerging trend. Individual jurisdictions, particularly in the western part of the state, report the quantities of methamphetamine seized and the number of methamphetamine laboratories are increasing. One Caucasian criminal group operated several methamphetamine laboratories from 1999 to 2000 in Greenville, Spartanburg, Laurens, and Anderson Counties, according to the Greenville County Sheriff's Office.

While the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina considers methamphetamine distribution the second most serious drug threat, its production and distribution are limited mainly to Upstate South Carolina. Laboratories have been discovered in private residences, motel rooms, cars, trucks, trailers, and secluded wooded areas.

Most of the methamphetamine available in the state is Mexican-produced, but small quantities of the drug are produced in local laboratories. Its production and abuse cause serious safety and environmental concerns in South Carolina because of the hazardous chemicals used in the production process and the violence often associated with methamphetamine abuse.

Most of the methamphetamine sold in South Carolina and the United States is produced in high volume laboratories in Mexico and in California. These high capacity superlabs--capable of producing 10 pounds or more of methamphetamine per cook--are most frequently found in rural areas of California, but also have been found in Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada.

"Nazi" method laboratories are the most common encountered by law enforcement in South Carolina. The Nazi method does not require extensive knowledge of chemistry, uses no heat, and laboratories can be set up in something as small as a cardboard box. Small quantities of methamphetamine, usually an ounce or less with purity levels of 90 percent, can be produced in less than an hour. The ready availability of anhydrous ammonia, a commonly used chemical fertilizer, is resulting in an increase in Nazi method production. Increased thefts and legal purchases of anhydrous ammonia, which is used to speed the chemical process, point to an increase in methamphetamine production in the Upstate area.

Nazi Method
  • Quicker than the ephedrine reduction method
  • Easily mobile laboratories
  • Yields less per cook--but less risk to cooker
  • Operated primarily in the South and Midwest
  • Most ingredients available over the counter
Ingredient Source
Acetone Paint thinner
Pseudoephedrine Decongestant
Lithium Batteries
Sodium hydroxide Drain cleaner
Ether Starter fluid
Anhydrous ammonia Fertilizer

The ephedrine-pseudoephedrine reduction or "Red P" method also is used to produce methamphetamine in South Carolina. This method uses ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as a precursor chemical and the essential chemicals iodine and red phosphorus. Diet pills are one readily available source of ephedrine, and many over-the-counter cold medicines contain pseudoephedrine. Methamphetamine producers extract the ephedrine or pseudoephedrine from these pills during cooks using coffee filters, coffeepots, tabletop grills, and microwave ovens. This method typically produces ounce quantities, often only enough for personal use. The process does not require heat, although heat may be applied to acquire a higher quality yield.

Most methamphetamine available in South Carolina is diluted with cutting agents to increase the quantity available for sale. Most locally produced methamphetamine is intended for personal use, and many producers sell 1 ounce or less of diluted methamphetamine at a time. The profits from the sale are used to purchase the chemicals required to produce another batch. Most methamphetamine sold in the state, both locally and Mexican-produced, is diluted with cutting agents such as dimethylsulfone (DMSO2), also known as methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). DMSO2 has become the prevalent methamphetamine-cutting agent within the United States because it is inexpensive and legally obtainable as a nutritional supplement for horses and humans. Caffeine, niacinamide, and inositol are also used as cutting agents.

Methamphetamine production is a serious safety and environmental concern. The chemicals used in the production process are volatile, and the dangers associated with methamphetamine laboratories are a concern to law enforcement as well as to anyone living near the laboratory. Methamphetamine laboratories contain a variety of highly flammable, toxic chemicals and vapors. The production process creates toxic and hazardous waste that endangers law enforcement personnel, emergency response teams, and the environment. Laboratories produce 5 to 6 pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine produced. Most toxic residue from methamphetamine production is dumped in the local area, contaminating groundwater and killing vegetation. Nationwide, cleanup costs have risen dramatically, draining the budgets of federal, state, and county agencies as well as those of private landowners. Government agencies spend millions of dollars every year to clean up laboratory sites.

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Mexican criminal groups and, to a lesser extent, OMGs transport methamphetamine into South Carolina from Mexico, the Midwest, California, and the Southwest Border area and frequently ship the drug with marijuana. Methamphetamine primarily is transported via tractor-trailers and personal vehicles outfitted with hidden compartments. Several local law enforcement agencies in South Carolina report that methamphetamine from California is shipped to the state via the mail and other package delivery services, and by distributors handcarrying methamphetamine aboard commercial airlines and buses. Independent distributors also transport methamphetamine from Florida to South Carolina in private vehicles. In June 1999, during a traffic stop in Hillsborough, Florida, police seized nearly 2 kilograms of methamphetamine from a Caucasian female driving north on I-75 to South Carolina.



Mexican criminal groups transport and distribute methamphetamine in South Carolina. Methamphetamine is also distributed by Caucasian criminal groups who produce the drug locally, and OMGs and multiethnic street gangs who obtain the drugs from producers and Mexican distributors.

Mexican criminal groups dominate wholesale distribution of methamphetamine and supply a variety of criminal organizations in the United States and South Carolina. OMGs and Caucasian criminal groups are involved in wholesale distribution to a lesser extent. The Hells Angels, an OMG that operates throughout the state, distributes wholesale quantities of methamphetamine according to local law enforcement agencies. Mexican criminal groups are the predominant retail distributors of Mexican-produced methamphetamine, often selling it out of bars.

While there is increasing methamphetamine production in South Carolina there is little widespread distribution of locally produced methamphetamine by the Caucasian producers. Most producers are interested in manufacturing enough for their own personal use and sell only enough to maintain their habit and operation. Methamphetamine retail level sales and consumption take place predominantly in rural areas. Methamphetamine primarily is sold in bars and private mobile homes. Some teenagers and young adults also purchase methamphetamine at raves.

Nationally affiliated OMGs and street gangs conduct retail methamphetamine sales. The Mafia Gangster Disciples, a multiethnic street gang, as well as the Hells Angels and Confederates OMGs, is involved in the retail distribution of methamphetamine. Law enforcement sources indicate some crack cocaine dealers also sell methamphetamine.

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